Prayers, rallies and arrests mark Poor Peoples Campaign launch in D.C. and at U.S. state capitols
Thousands of activists calling for a just world for all people rallied on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and more than 30 statehouses around the country on Monday, March 14, during the launch of 40 days of action by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. This campaign, which continues the 1968 initiative of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is a nationwide call to action, aimed at changing legislation that penalizes poor people. The movement calls for justice for the most vulnerable, an end to systematic racism, ecological devastation, and an economy built around war.
“Sadly, a Poor People’s Campaign is as relevant and timely today as it was 50 years ago,” said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC Washington, D.C. Office. “The UCC strongly supported these historic efforts and will continue the struggle in the days to come. It is simply morally unacceptable that so many working families live in poverty in the richest nation on earth.”
|Washington, DC||Washington, DC|
Carrying signs that read “Fight Poverty, Not the Poor,” “Starving a Child is Violence,” and “Dismantle White Supremacy,” participants in the Poor People’s Campaign are demanding a restoration of the Voting Rights Act, repeal of the 2017 federal tax law, implementation of federal and state living wage laws, universal single-payer health care, and clean water for all.
Sorensen was one of several dozen people in Washington, D.C., arrested for standing in the street outside the Capitol. The co-chairs of the campaign, the Rev. William Barber and the Rev. Liz Theoharis were also arrested for refusing to move.
In dozens of communities across the country, the initial action of the 40 day campaign aimed to underscore the issue of poverty in America, outlining the hardships facing children, women and people with disabilities. Monday’s actions came as the administration pushes work requirements for SNAP recipients and seeks to cut $7 billion from the Children’s Health Care Program.
In Annapolis, Md., clergy of the UCC Central Atlantic Conference (CAC) joined people from all walks of life to speak out against what the Rev. Marvin Silver called “the distorted moral narrative of this country.”
“When 44 percent of people in Maryland are poor or low income, and the income for the top 1 percent has grown 160 percent, while the income for the bottom 99 percent has increased a mere 26 percent, there’s a moral crisis that needs to be addressed,” the CAC Associate Conference Minister continued. “There were disabled people, clergy, people of faith, people not of faith — all there to bear witness and raise our voices.” Eleven people, including two UCC leaders, were arrested for blocking traffic.
|Washington, DC.||Annapolis, Md.|
In St. Paul, Minn. the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Executive Director of the Center for Sustainable Justice at Lynndale UCC in Minneapolis, led the prayers at the statehouse rally for a living wage. She said hundreds gathered there in the pouring rain, “because they are coming for the innocent and we are called to put our bodies in the way. We are here today at the Capitol because corporate interests are trying to pass pre-emption.”
About forty of those advocates opposing pre-emption took action. Armed with signs which read “preemptive means poverty” they occupied the office of Rep. Pat Garofalo (R). He authored a bill designed to allow state law to pre-empt local community ordinances, taking away the municipality’s ability to pass $15/hour wage laws or laws that protect sick time. Thirteen people were arrested, including two men from Lynndale UCC.
“As people of faith, as targeted communities and co-conspirator communities, we stand against pre-emption and for a living wage because we affirm the Creator’s sacredness in humanity and in creation,” Voelkel said.
In Des Moines, Iowa, the Rev. Jessica Petersen, who serves Congregational United Church of Christ in Newton, organized a group of participants hoping to have a word with Gov. Kim Reynolds. Ten people were held by Iowa State Patrol officers for refusing to leave the capitol building. Petersen told the local paper her group is “calling for change in our nation’s moral discourse.”
|St. Paul, Minn.||Boston, Mass.|
In Topeka, Kans., 31 people were arrested outside the Kansas capitol. One of the group’s organizers, Rachel Shivers of First Congregational Church in Manhattan, Kan., said, “It’s not only tragic — but also immoral and unacceptable — that millions of people in the U.S. lack access to adequate, affordable healthcare and housing in one of the wealthiest nations in history. It’s my personal conviction and commitment to use any power, privilege and resources I have to help lift up the voices of vulnerable groups of people who are suffering under oppressive practices and policies.”
In Boston, Mass., no arrests were made, though more than 300 people gathered to pray and sing on the statehouse steps. Three UCC ministers — the Rev. June Cooper of the City Missions Society, Rev. Cathlin Baker, pastor of First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, and Rev. Kelly Gallagher, Associate Conference Minister of the Massachusetts Conference — shared a call to “bring good news to the poor.”
“Stories of impact from women who have suffered from inadequate services for PTSD, immigration and healthcare were interspersed with calls from communities of faith to come together and repair the breach dug so deep between us,” Gallagher said. “Clergy and congregation members from many UCC churches across the state joined hands with ecumenical and interfaith siblings, and claiming faith in humanity as together we sang, ‘Someone is hurting our people, and it has gone on far too long!””
The Poor People’s Campaign spent two years building a broad and deep national base in preparation for this movement — rooted in the leadership of poor people and reflecting the great moral teachings — in an effort to unite our country from the bottom up. Coalitions have formed in 39 states and Washington, D.C. to challenge extremism locally and at the federal level and to demand a moral agenda for the common good.
For the next six Mondays, faith leaders and other activists will join together for civil disobedience, marches, rallies and prayers to honor the legacy of MLK Jr., fifty years after his assassination — to call attention to the evils of poverty, racism and militarism. Actions each week will have a different issue focus. The effort culminates with a mass rally on June 23 in Washington, D.C.
At a time when Congress has passed the largest Pentagon Budget in history and slashed deep cuts in funding for vital human needs programs, leaders say the time for a revival is upon us.
“Fifty years ago, Dr. King called for the poor and dispossessed of all races to unite and take action together—to become ‘a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life,'” said the Rev. Theoharis, co-chair of the Campaign. “Today, as poor people all over the country take action and refuse to be ignored any longer, that ‘unsettling force’ has arrived. They’re heeding Dr. King’s call: ‘We’re here, we’re poor, you have made us this way and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it.'”
|St. Paul, Minn.||Washington, DC.|
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